Sunday, January 29, 2012

Interview: JEFF the Brotherhood

One week into JEFF The Brotherhood's 2012 North American tour with The Kills, I had the chance to chat on the phone with guitarist Jake Orrall about his new gear, the Infinity Cat label's Canadian connection, and what's going on with the band since signing to Warner Bros. Records.

Stephanie: Hey Jake, you're live on CJLO.

Jake Orrall: All right!

S: How are you?

J: I'm good. I'm driving down the highway on interstate 10...

S: What city are you in right now?

J: I have no idea.

S: I want to wish you a Happy Birthday!

J: Aww thank you, that's very sweet.

S: Your birthday was last Friday [January 20], and JEFF also kicked off a tour with the Kills that same day, how's that going so far?

J: It's going awesome so far, really awesome. Tired of driving, but it's a really good show. And everyone on the tour is super nice.

S: Were you a fan of the Kills beforehand, or did you just meet them...

J: Casual fan, casual fan.

S: And I know you also have an LP of rarities just you just released on Infinity Cat. Can you tell us about The Brotherhood of Light?

J: Yes, kind of older stuff that's out-of-print... the more kinda cosmic side of JEFF The Brotherhood, I guess.

S: The cover of Brotherhood of Light has some symbols of the zodiac, Hebrew letters, the Star of David, the moon and the sun. I'm wondering where that concept for the cover came up?

J: The cover is actually from an old astrology pamphlet from a secret society called the Brotherhood of Light.

S: Oh wow! Is a secret society and mystical symbols something you're interested in?

J: Yeah, absolutely. Kind of a hobby, I guess.

S: Can you tell us a little bit about that book?

J: I found it in just an old pile of junk, and it's just kind of full of numbers, algorithms and stuff. It doesn't make any sense to me, none of it makes sense at all, actually. It's pretty weird, but it's interesting.

S: Just this week your video for "Bummer" has been going around the internet.

J: Yeah.

S: That was filmed in Hawaii, just in December. Did you have a chance to do any vacationing while you were there? Were you there to play shows, what happened?

J: We were there to play shows, but we were playing at surf competitions and a lot of that was really dependent on the weather and the tides, and surf. So we had to be there for two weeks in order to have enough time just for any possible schedule for shows. So we did get a lot of time just to hang out, which was really nice.

S: Did you take any surf lessons, or did you know how to surf beforehand?

J: No, I didn't do any surfing. I was just body surfing... boogie board.

S: The director of the video [Lina Plioplyte] also did your video for "Mind Ride".

J: Yeah, and our video for "Hey Friend".

S: Oh, cool. I didn't know that. Mind Ride has themes of black metal, satanic symbolism, and virgin sacrifice. So with that, and the Brotherhood of Light, I'm getting kind of a witch vibe from you guys. I'm wondering have you ever sacrificed a virgin?

J: (pauses) I... (inaudible mumbling) I'm not going to say anything about that.

S: (Laughs) Have you ever used a virgin to catch a unicorn?

J: Sorry?

S: (Repeats the question)

J: (Pauses) Uhh, no.

S: Do you believe in unicorns?

J: (Pauses) Sure, why not?

S: JEFF has been touring extensively for quite a while now, I know you were in Montreal last year for the launch party.

J: We just flew in for that one.

S: You had a comedian there opening for you guys, Neil Hamburger, and I'm wondering what you thought of his show?

J: Oh, we're big Neil Hamburger fans. We just listened to one of his things that hasn't come out yet, umm, in the van yesterday. He's cool.

S: And I know his set was really long and a few of my friends wanted to get going and I'm like, "No, you have to stay for JEFF The Brotherhood! Trust me!"

J: (Laughs) He's not for everybody. (Laughs again) Not for everybody.

S: And The Spits also played, which was really awesome...

J: Yeah, yeah we're big fans of them too. We've played with them a bunch...

S: They describe themselves as "punk for the people", and I'm wondering how you and Jamin describe your band.

J: Uh, we just... we try to not ask how to describe our band, we try to just let people figure it out for themselves, I think. I don't think we're really... allowed to describe our own band.

S: I like that answer, people can get what they want from your music and feel how they feel.

J: Also, anyone can get what they want out of any of music, we're just not gonna tell them what we expect them to get out of it.

S: I'm going to talk a little bit about Infinity Cat.

J: Yes.

S: You have two Canadian bands on that label, there's Uncle Bad Touch from Montreal, and Peach Kelli Pop from Ottawa.

J: It's pretty much exclusively Canada and Nashville (Laughs) on the label, dunno why.

S: How did you get in contact with Uncle Bad Touch and Allie Hanlon from Peach Kelli Pop?

J: Uhh, Allie, we played a show with her other band White Wires [Allie is on drums], who we are also big fans of, and we had a copy the Peach Kelli Pop record... and I listened to it with some friends and went, "This is awesome... where do I get it? I don't know, I don't think you can get it. I think it's just in Canada... You can get it really." So, then I was like, oh let's just ask them if they wanted to put it out on record 'cause it's awesome, and so we did. And then Uncle Bad Touch, it was actually kind of a similar thing. We played with them, and became friends with them, and started doing shows together and stuff, and they had an LP and it hadn't been released in the US. So, that's kind of how it started.

S: Do you have any plans to collaborate with them musically...

J: Yeah, we actually almost recorded with Uncle Bad Touch, like a big collaboration thing the last time we were in town, but we didn't have time. We don't really have any real hard plans for that kind of stuff...

S: I've spoken to Allie from Peach Kelli Pop a couple of times, and she's a really good drummer as well as playing the ukulele and the guitar.

J: Yeah.

S: And I'm wondering if, because of that interest in drumming, did she have any sort of friendship, or love connection with Jamin?

J: (Laughs) You'd have to ask them.

S: If I ever get to meet up with her [Allie] again, I'm gonna to ask her if she would like to start a JEFF tribute band with me called STEPH The Sisterhood because that's my name, my name is Stephanie... 

J: Oh yeah, that would be really...

S: I think it would be kinda cute.

J: (Laughs)

S: You know, I could play the ukulele, and maybe she can get like a little toy drum set and we'll do JEFF songs... Peach Kelli Pop style.

J: I'd love to hear it. (Laughs again)

S: I'd love to play it, it sounds like fun... I wonder if a JEFF song would work on the ukulele with four strings... But, you know, you play the top three-strings on your guitar. 

J: Yeah.

S: Have you always played that way?

J: No, I used to have two, and only two, then I added one after the second album.

S: Wow, I'm really curious, how exactly do you get such a huge sound out of just two/three strings?

J: Well, I have a really, really nice pickup in my guitar, that was built by a guy named... in Nashville; a very talented pickup builder. But even before I had that uhh, I think it sounds a lot better now, but I use a Big Muff distortion pedal. Umm, and it's an old Russian one, it's not like a new one. And I play through a bass amp and a guitar amp, and I just EQ instead the bass amp is really, really bass-y, and the guitar amp is really treble-y, and then I just; when they mix together they make up for all the lost sound of not having a bass... A really big amp... Yeah, and I also got this custom made amplifier cabinet, speaker cabinet, which I got the day before this tour, and they're really cool. I'll have them at the show, in Montreal. I'm really excited about it, they sound really good.

S: Yeah, I can't wait to hear it, and I read that some of your gear was stolen last year in Nashville, so be sure to keep an eye on your stuff when you're here in Montreal.

J: I will. It's pretty hard to sell, if they do get stolen. (Laughs) I got some of my stuff back from a pawn shop when I got broken into last time, but the guitar wasn't there and the pawn guy was like, "No it only had three strings on it; I didn't want that piece of junk"... It's missing three strings, so he's like "I can't do anything with this". So the guy didn't buy it from them [the thieves], so I guess they probably just threw it away.

S: The saying goes, opportunity comes disguised in the form of misfortune, and you got a pretty wicked guitar out of it.

J: Yeah... I really didn't care when I got my new guitar that my old one had been stolen. (Laughs)

S: I also saw your post on Twitter that you guys were in the studio recording a few weeks ago.

J: Yeah, just basically recording another album, and I think it's the best one we've ever done.

S: I can't wait to hear it! Can we expect to a new single soon?

J: I dunno, we have to mix it when we get back from this tour, so we'll see.

S: Will this album be released on Infinity Cat? Because there's some buzz about you and Jamin being signed to Warner Bros. Records last year.

J: Yeah, we're doing, JEFF The Brotherhood's doing... umm, we just signed with Warner Bros., and this album will come out Warner Bros. slash Infinity Cat kind of thing.

S: Has the dynamic of the band, and how you run things at Infinity Cat, changed since being signed to Warner? Do you still feel independent...

J: We have a lot more freedom because of the resources we have access to. While before our record label basically consisted, you know, of me and... being on tour all day, and my dad and some interns at home mailing out packages. Now we have, you know, all these departments and all these people working for us. We come up with an idea, and we can send it to Warner Bros. and they get it done. And it's really been awesome so far; it really opened up a lot of new opportunities for us. And we also work harder and be a more professional band. But it's kinda like, it's almost like we just got like promoted at our job, and our job is like playing music, you know? It's fucking awesome...

S: I've always felt that, you can have the biggest bass amp, or the biggest guitar amp, or any pedal that you want; but for me I felt that your music really came from the soul, and it spoke to me for sure. And everyone I know who, like when I convinced my friends "Please stay at the VICE party to see JEFF", and they're like, "I'm so glad that I stayed".

J: That's awesome.

S: I wanted to thank you guys so much for sharing you music. I know, umm... some people think you're a pretty new band, or didn't hear much about JEFF, and you guys have been around since 2001.

J: Yeah, it's hard to get your name out there, you know. It really helps when people bring their friends to shows, and make them stay out ‘til the end, so thanks for that.